Wits staff ‘rural farm workers’

RURAL WORKERS?: Wits landscape workers categorized as rural farm workers in order to pay them rural minimum wage.  Servest workers Tshepo Mabe and Hope Mofokeng                                                                                           Photo: Thuletho Zwane

RURAL WORKERS?: Wits landscape workers categorized as rural farm workers in order to pay them rural minimum wage. Servest workers Tshepo Mabe and Hope Mofokeng  Photo: Thuletho Zwane

WITS landscape workers, who live in the largest city in South Africa, have been classified as ‘rural farm workers’ by an outsourcing company contracted by the university, allowing the company to pay them a lower minimum wage.

This means they only qualify for a minimum wage of R2 275.74 before their unemployment insurance deduction.  Farm workers generally receive additional compensation in the form of food and shelter from their employers but this is not the case with outsourcing company Servest.

Workers don’t want to be defined as [rural] farm workers

Wits Workers Solidarity Committee (WSC) member Shireen Ally told Wits Vuvuzela that existing labour legislation does not formally classify landscape workers. She said the Wits landscapers are seeking to redefine their status. “Workers don’t want to be defined as [rural] farm workers,” she said. “They don’t want to be called urban farm workers.”

[pullquote]If they want to call us farm workers then we want transport, food and accommodation,[/pullquote]

Ally noted that Wits cleaners, following a strike, want to be paid R4 300, almost double what the landscapers are paid. Department of labour expert on labour relations, Thembinkosi Mkalipi,said: “There is no minimum wage for landscaping workers”. Mkalipi said the only way the workers could get a better wage was by negotiating with their employer or finding a union to represent them.

In my view you are not farm workers, you are landscape workers

Servest human resources director Peter Fisher declined to comment. “We choose not to address internal employment matters with the press,” Fisher wrote in an email to Wits Vuvuzela. The landscape workers and WSC held a meeting with deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, Prof Tawana Kupe, two weeks ago to discuss the matter.

“If they want to call us farm workers then we want transport, food and accommodation,” said Wits worker Thomas Baloyi at the meeting. Kupe told the workers that the university disagreed with Servest that the Wits landscapers were farm workers. “In my view you are not farm workers, you are landscape workers. This is the view of the university,” he said to the workers.

Kupe said Wits wanted to examine Servest’s financial records to find out whether a higher wage was feasible. Mkalipi said under the law, company balance sheets and profits could be used to calculate how much the landscape workers should be paid.

Habib: No money for in-house cleaning

Habib said Wits cannot effort to "insource" its cleaners. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Habib said Wits cannot effort to “insource” its cleaners. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

IT WOULD cost Wits University R150-million per year to hire its cleaners directly instead of contracting outside companies to supply the service.

This is the explanation Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib gave the workers regarding why the university could not “insource” them.

The workers had a meeting with Habib on Monday to discuss some of the grievances they have with their new contracts, especially their salaries.
“We are here because of the money; maybe the R2 000 that I earn is your child’s pocket money,” said a female worker in a choked voice.Habib said he understood and agreed with the cleaners’ grievances but there was nothing he could do.[pullquote align=”right”]”R2 000 that I earn is your child’s pocket money”[/pullquote] “I don’t like outsourcing,” he said.
“If I was here and in a position of power in 2001, I would have fought against it.
“But now that it’s done I cannot undo it.”
Habib said Wits simply did not have that kind of money.
“I wish I did, but I don’t,” he said.
“If I start spending recklessly now, we will be in trouble and if we are in trouble, people will lose their jobs.”  Habib said if Wits managed to increase its income in the next three years, then he would consider using some of that money for the workers.

One worker asked Habib why he didn’t give them the money he had saved from having cheaper cleaning services from the present contractors who charge less than previous ones. Habib said that money had been used to ensure that all the workers were hired by the current contractors.

There is still abuse

The workers also claimed that Impact, one of the cleaning companies contracted to Wits, was abusive.
“Last year we spoke about how abusive Impact was, but what you did is you gave Impact the contract,” said Girly Mosieleng, a member of the Workers Solidarity Committee. She said Impact had not even given its workers a notice for the meeting and that “there is still apartheid” in the company. Habib asked the cleaners for details of the alleged abuse so he could investigate it.
“Give me a case, an incident, a person, a date and I can do something.
“Without that there is nothing I can do, they will just deny it,” said Habib.

Habib promised to establish a committee that will investigate outsourcing and look at what other cleaners around the country earn to see if it is comparable with what Wits cleaners are earning.
At the request of the workers, Habib said he would speak to the contractors about increasing the workers’ salaries.
“But I am not necessarily hopeful; I’ve already signed the contract. They don’t have to listen to me.”

Related Stories

1. Wits Vuvuzela: Sign or forever hold your piece job. July 31, 2013

2. Wits Vuvuzela: Outsourced but not outsmarted. May 31, 2013

 

The charges against the eleven will not be dropped.

SRC members talk to Adam Habib about charges against them being dropped.

Charges stay: SRC members Joy Phiri, Justice Nkomo and Tasneem Essop talk to incoming vice chancellor, Adam Habib, about charges against them and eight others being dropped. Photo: Mia Swart

THE WITS vice chancellor’s office has decided that charges against 11 students, including nine SRC members, will not be dropped.

Incoming vice chancellor, Adam Habib, made the statement after the SRC spent the past week promoting their “Right2Protest” campaign in various national media platforms. According to Habib, the case will be postponed from May13 to July 16 at the request of the charged students so they can concentrate on their exams.

The students were charged for a possible contravention of the university’s codes of conduct after they disrupted a concert by an Israeli pianist during a protest for Israel Apartheid Week in March.

SRC president Sibulele Mgudlwa said they were disappointed the “bogus” charges against them were not dropped but were still prepared to fight them.

“We are preparing a strong legal strategy to answer to the charges.”[pullquote align=”right”]”Last year the students defended the workers. This year the workers will defend the students”[/pullquote],”

Mgudlwa said they were happy with the decision to postpone: “It will allow us to focus on exams and make our case stronger.”

Right2Protest campaign still on

Mgudlwa added that the Right2Protest campaign will not be cancelled despite Habib’s declaration that the charges would stand.

On Monday, the Wits workers solidarity committee (WWSC) organised a demonstration to pledge their support of the charged students and to the Right2Protest campaign:

“Last year the students defended the workers. This year the workers will defend the students,” said WWSC representative, Matthew Bodiba.

Mboyiseni Ndlozi, one of the charged students, addressed the workers at the demonstration and said:  “If they [Wits] do not drop the charges they are cowards.”

Habib said that the rest of the decision making would happen in the course of the disciplinary process that has been established.

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